What is the Voluntourism Industry?
Updated: Jun 27
Voluntourism; the concept of tourists who volunteer during their travels.
The term has become somewhat of a social trend in recent years; read on to learn more. The Volunteer industry is worth over $2.6 billion annually and volunteers can pay over $2000 a week to the organisations they work with. It is so important to understand the concerns that unskilled volunteer work brings to the destination you visit.
Interested in learning more? This article shares valuable insight into this area of tourism.
What Is Voluntourism
Simply, it is where travellers do voluntary work to help communities or the environment in the places they visit. Unfortunately, it is much more complex than this with an increasing number of backpackers travelling to Southeast Asia to work with children.
Why is this a problem? Don’t the orphans need me to help them? How much harm could a few days of working with these kids bring? This type of thinking won't help children anymore than misplaced funds will buy rice. This may sound harsh, but, the research supports these concerns. Good willed tourists are at risk of being negligent when it comes to supporting organisations that support the cycle of poverty rather than the ones who aim to bring about long-term change.
Most centres have children labelled as “orphans” who have living parents or one living parent at home with extended family.
The owners focus on 'building a business' instead of looking for ways to support the families at home in the village through community development.
Many don't require volunteers to book in advance or make an appointment to visit the children, excepting people who walk in off the street
Volunteers are not required to have set skills or prior experience working with children or teaching English.
Volunteers don’t work with the local staff, often take work away from local’s and are not creating long-term solutions to societal problems.
Fees are charged to the volunteer with no clear direction for the allocation of these funds and are often encouraged to sponsor a child from home with no awareness of where this monthly donation of money is going.
Even worse; criminal history checks are rarely completed, and this exposes vulnerable children to strangers who could present a serious risk.
What Impact Does This Have On A Child
1. Such orphanages are commonly over-crowded, loud and chaotic.
2. They can be unstructured and lack daily routine.
3.Young children are housed with older children with little privacy.
4. Children in care miss their families.
5. Elevated levels of toxins and poor sanitation/hygiene is common in unregulated centres.
6. Owners prefer the centre to look 'poor' and under resourced to gain sympathy and donations from tourists.
7. Research has shown this sort of environment presents a child with many problems including physical and psychological stress which impacts their development.
8. Children in orphanages where tourists interact with them for short periods of time often show early signs of reactive attachment disorders and display trauma-based behaviours.
9. Children who are viewed as a commodity are placed at risk of being trafficked and exploited and families might loose contact with their children.
10. Short-term volunteer projects or day visits to an orphanage are not sustainable and often benefit the one who is volunteering over the ones who require the support.
Please remember that children are not tourist attractions and that they need nurturing and consistency to foster healthy relationships. Aim to find ethical or responsible volunteer options that support the welfare of everyone involved.
Research your chosen location, talk to other tourists or business owners in the area and learn as much as you can about the social needs of the area and how your good intentions can best be used as you travel.
Volunteers play an important role in the community and part of this role is where we choose to offer our help. Choosing from an informed point of view will allow you to make decisions which have a significant impact on the welfare of children and their families.